With my recent shift to full-time video production, I’m typically editing 1080p and 4K video on an expensive PC packing a Ryzen 12-core CPU, 32GB of RAM and an Nvidia RTX 2080 Super. So when someone suggested I try to slap together a video using the new $70 Raspberry Pi 400, I chuckled and tossed the idea aside. But then my technological curiosity got the best of me (it always does) and I tackled it head on.
I was expecting a downright infuriating experience, but the combination of ARM-friendly Linux distro Ubuntu MATE and open source video editor Kdenlive turned in results that legitimately surprised me.
Now, this is a fully functional $70 PC (it even ships with a free operating system) built inside of the official Raspberry Pi keyboard. It can drive two monitors and has an ethernet port and three USB ports. Spend an extra $30 and you’ll get the complete kit featuring a mouse, USB-C power adapter and a full-color book guiding beginners down the path of their first Raspberry Pi adventures.
If you want to jump straight to the good stuff, watch this video to fully grasp just how awesome this is. Especially since you can see and hear the editing process in action. And especially since it’s all happening from a microSD card. . .
Low Expectations (And Framerates)
When I bought the Raspberry Pi 400, I wondered if I — or anyone else — could use it as a daily driver. You know, just to get average, everyday PC user stuff done. Write emails, do video conferencing, check on social media, shop online, watch YouTube.
The first operating system I tried was the officially supported Raspberry Pi OS. It was serviceable but not entirely welcoming for beginners, and the first red flag I noticed was that I could barely stream YouTube at 720p. And it wasn’t a pleasant viewing experience.
I assumed things would fare better on Ubuntu 20.10, the most popular Linux distribution out there which now, finally, supported the Raspberry Pi on the desktop side of the fence. The YouTube experience was worse. Out of the box it could barely manage 480p with the included Firefox browser.
Then I remembered Ubuntu MATE, a distro that has cheerfully embraced the Pi for the last 5 years. Spoiler: It runs like dream considering the low-spec hardware. Not only was installation a piece of cake, but its software store is one of the most elegant I’ve seen. You can easily switch between multiple desktop layouts. And yep, I could actually watch Youtube at 720p without things looking like a slideshow.
So How’d It Go?
OK. Ubuntu MATE was where I’d try this insane video editing experiment. I installed Kdenlive with a single click from the Software Boutique, then I imported some random 1080p footage I’d captured, and even tossed a 4K clip of me playing guitar into the project bin because I felt overly ambitious.
I dragged a short animated logo clip into my timeline, slapped the spacebar to start playback and. . . it sputtered and choked, limping to each new frame.
Thankfully, the solution was enabling proxy clips in Kdenlive’s settings. Proxy clips are basically lower resolution copies that you edit with to improve performance. When it’s time to render out your final project, it uses the original full quality footage.
This is also how I was able to work with that 4K clip. And to be fair, most modern $1000 PCs can’t even handle editing raw 4K footage — unless they have Apple M1 chips inside.
Soon I was trimming clips and layering on transitions, fading in audio and even added some color grading effects, which tends to tank performance. While that color graded clip struggled to play back smoothly, it looked fantastic in the end result.
Speaking of getting to that end result, rendering my humble 58-second video took a whopping 8 minutes. So if you’re thinking about doing any lengthy video editing on the Pi 400, be prepared to have patience and walk away for potentially hours.
That said, the final 1080p/30fps video was beautiful! Producing this wasn’t frustrating at all, and the performance was just good enough that it didn’t hamper precision or creativity. I’d feel confident handing a Raspberry Pi 400 to someone wanting to learn basic video editing skills, or to someone who wants to create some fun family videos.
Hobbyist stuff, not professional stuff. But that’s a lot of people. And this is a very, very cheap computer.